Back in the 1980’s, a whole new generation of homeowners experienced the thrill and beauty of solid hardwood floors as they stripped away the orange and green wall-to-wall shag carpeting which had been so popular in the 1970’s. Hardwood floors are resilient and long-lasting. They don’t peel or crack and best of all — unlike that old shag — they don’t get moldy. Real hardwood floors are easy to refinish and restore and are sure to add value to any home.
Hardwood flooring is typically 3/4″ thick, with each plank a single solid piece. Hardwoods can contract and expand depending upon the climate and the plank width. Hardwoods are generally more expensive than engineered flooring and require the addition of a sub-floor, as well as several coats of protective finish. The most popular hardwoods are those that are readily available.
Choosing hardwood flooring
Aside from plank width, color, and grain, when it comes to choosing a type of hardwood flooring the most important thing to consider is strength and durability.
Hardwoods like oak and maple derive from deciduous trees, while softwoods come from conifers. Softwoods like pine, poplar, walnut, and spruce are better used for furniture and cabinetry. You may also choose form tropical hardwoods such as mahogany, teak, and rosewood. These hardwoods are are not native to North America and can be considerably more expensive as a result.
Top 10 hardwoods, according to the American Hardwood Information Center
- Pecan hickory
- Hard maple
- White oak
- Red oak
- Yellow birch
- Green ash
- Black walnut
- Soft maple
Unlike solid hardwood floors which are milled from a single piece of timber, engineered wood flooring planks are made up of two layers — the lamella, or top surface, over a supporting core layer. The core can be made of a “wood ply” which uses multiple thin plies of wood glued together, “finger core” made of small pieces of milled timber that run perpendicular to the top layer, or fiberboard.
Engineered floors maintain stability by running each layer at a 90 degree angle to the layer above. A true engineered hardwood floor uses sawn wood for its surface layer, not veneer. No wood composite or plastic is used in the manufacturing process. Engineered hardwood can be installed over concrete and doesn’t generally require a separate sub-floor.
Engineered flooring gives you more choices
When shopping for an engineered floor you’ll find many wood veneers options, from standard oak to exotic Brazilian cherry. Oak, maple, walnut, and mahogany are all considered traditional, whereas beach and pine are lighter and more suitable for a contemporary space. You’ll have a variety of choices when it comes to plank width as well — wide or narrow, edging, beveled or square, as well as the type of installation system. Perhaps the best known of these is “tongue-and-groove.” Each plank having one side and one end grooved so that they fit tightly with adjoining planks.
Unlike tongue-and-groove which must be glued down, a number of manufacturers have developed patented “click” systems of installation. While similar to tongue-and-groove, instead of fitting directly into the groove, the board must be angled or “tapped” in to make the curved or barbed tongue fit into the adjoining modified groove. Other floor connection systems are available that allow for the incorporation of other materials including metal and rubber. Parquet style floors use a glue down method. Small pieces of wood are affixed to glue applied directly to the concrete surface and then tamped down with a rubber mallet.
Engineered wood flooring has made it possible for a generation of DIY homeowners to upgrade their homes. A word of caution, though — the top layer of your engineered hardwood floor is much thinner than a solid hardwood floor and should not be sanded often. A true solid hardwood floor will last for generations. Engineered hardwood flooring? It remains to be seen.
The Bottom Line
Whether you choose real hardwood or engineered flooring, there is wide range of high quality products available that will enhance both the beauty and value of your home.